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Samurai, Scholar, Poet, Prince, & Pirate
A Family Affair

Statue of Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga) on Gulangyu
                Island, Xiamen, China (Source: Wikimedia Commons by
Guóxìngyé (Koxinga or Zheng Chenggong) by Gisleng
(source: Wikimedia Commons)

Ming society was divided into five classes. At the top, as in many cultures, was the nobility. In China, the other four were known as the shi, the nong, the gong, and the shang. Of these, the nong were a key component because they were farmers and their products made it possible for everyone else to live. When practicing legitimate trade, the Zheng clan were members of the shang because they were merchants. Zheng Zhilong held much power and influence as one of the shang because of his wealth and his ability to achieve his goals. But he wished for his eldest son to have higher aspirations. He wished him to be part of the gentry, the ruling class of Chinese society – a member of the shi.1

                                and his mother in Japanese Fuku, Koxinga
                                Ancestral Shrine by koika (Source:
                                https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JapaneseKoxinga.JPG)This wish, however, was not an immediate one. When his son was born in 1624, Zheng Zhilong was absent from Japan. His son’s mother, Tagawa Matsu, was the daughter of a minor samurai and was forbidden to leave her homeland. Instead, she and Lucky Pine (Fukumatsu) lived on Hirado Island, which was ruled by the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Living with his mother and her family meant that Lucky Pine was raised to be a samurai warrior. Two key components of this upbringing were loyalty to one’s ruler and being virtuous in all that one did.2 This philosophy was somewhat at odds with the teachings of Confucius, which his father followed, and placed obedience to the family, especially the father, above all else.

Hints of this divide between son and father would surface in adulthood. One example would appear in a letter Lucky Pine eventually write to Zheng Zhilong.
In ancient times, righteousness was always more valued than family loyalty . . . and ever since I learned to read I always admired the righteousness of the Spring and Autumn Period. (Andrade, Lost, 63)3
The second instance came in his reply to a Manchu offer to join them as his father had. “I cannot trust in the words of barbarians. I will not deal with a collaborator.” (Clements, 144) One of his undated poems further supported this divide:
I most pity how difficult it is to fulfill the two obligations of loyalty [to the ruler] and filial piety. Whenever I think of my father’s residence, tears flow in the four directions. (Xing, Conflict, 73)
Lucky Pine’s training, which included martial arts and learning to read and write, began around the age of two or three for boys destined to become samurai. One of the few surviving artifacts of Lucky Pine’s early life is a painting made when he was six or seven years old. His hair is long. He stands straight, with his legs having a slight bow. He holds a katana, a curved sword about two feet long with a sharp-edged blade and a wood handle covered in ray skin and braided with blue silk.

                                  of katana sword. (Source: Wikimedia
Example of a katana sword. This one, made by Muramasa in the 16th century,
is on display in the Tokyo National Museum. Photo by Ihimutefu.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Life changed abruptly for Lucky Pine when he was seven. His father decided it was time his son came to live with him in China, and so he left his mother behind and moved from a modest Japanese house into an opulent palace with pavilions, tea-houses, and a zoo of exotic animals – all contained within a walled enclosure. When Lucky Pine stepped off the junk that brought him to his new home, his father called him Zheng Sen (Forest or Big Tree).

Zheng Sen’s studies continued but now included Confucius’s teachings and ancient history in addition to furthering his training in combat and self-defense. His father believed that if Zheng Sen mastered his studies and passed as many of the four levels of the civil service examinations as possible, he would become a member of the shi and thus bring legitimacy to the Zheng clan.

Zheng Sen loved learning. He particularly liked to delve into Sunzi’s military treatise, Bingfa (The Art of War). Within four years, he thoroughly comprehended one of the most difficult works in Chinese literature: Annals of the Spring and Autumn Period. These chronicles focused on fidelity, integrity, courage, and morality. At fourteen, he successfully underwent the first civil service examination. According to one scholar, Zheng Sen was “no normal boy. He’s a person of destiny, an outstanding talent.” (Andrade, Lost, 63)

Confucius by
                                  Qui Ying during Ming dynasty (Source:
                                  Wikimedia Commons,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%E5%AD%94%E5%AD%90%E8%81%96%E8%B9%9F%E5%9C%96.png)Sun Tzu by
                                  unknown artist during Qing dynasty
                                  (Wikimedia Commons
Left: Confucius painted by Qiu Ying during the Ming dynasty (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Right: Sun Tzu painted by unknown artist during the Qing dynasty (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

He later passed the third level, which was given at the provincial capital. This achievement made him part of the provincial elite. Should he continue, the fourth level exam would take place at the imperial palace. If he passed that, he would be considered one of the shi.

Qian Qianyi by
                                unknown artist of Ming Dynasty (Source,
                                Wikimedia Commons,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%E9%8C%A2%E8%AC%99%E7%9B%8A.jpg)Toward that end, he went to Nanjing, a center of learning, in 1639. There he studied under the esteemed Qian Qianyi, a poet and historian. Zheng Sen continued to learn about ancient poetry, historic battles, and heroes. His studies also taught him about conducting affairs of state, diplomacy, and being a gentleman. Much of his learning had to be memorized, and he excelled in his studies.

What he could not control was the upheaval afflicting China during this period. One crisis after another plagued the Ming emperor. One involved the economy. Another concerned the natural disasters that were taking a toll on the people. Unrest rippled through the empire, and the greatest threat came from the northeast where the Manchu rebelled. As they advanced into Ming China, Zheng Sen had to curtail his studies and leave Nanjing.

Dong Cuiying
                                (modern interpretation) (Source:
                                Wikimedia Commons,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%E9%84%AD%E6%88%90%E5%8A%9F%E7%8E%8B%E5%A6%83%E8%91%A3%E6%B0%8F.jpg)Even with this upheaval, Zheng Sen married his first wife in 1641. He did not choose his bride; he took her to please his father. Dong Cuiying came from a wealthy family, but her behavior and priorities did not mesh well with his. She had been spoiled growing up and it was best not to be on the receiving end when her temper was riled. She also loved the latest styles. Despite their differences, Zheng Sen dealt with his new circumstances. The following year, he welcomed a son, Jing, to his family.

The Zheng were loyal defenders of the Ming dynasty, and Zheng Sen’s fidelity was eternal. He proved himself a skilled warrior, wielding his katana with deadly accuracy. His proficiency extended to other weapons as well: bow and arrow, halberd, lance, arquebus, and musket.

When the Manchu seized Beijing in June 1644, the Ming ruler was Zhu Youjian. Known as the Chongzhen Emperor, he hadn’t been trained to be the ruler and didn’t initially want the title, but he tried to be a good ruler. Rather than surrender to the rebels, he committed suicide. Afterward, loyalists fled south to try to reestablish the dynasty, which became known as the Southern Ming dynasty. A series of claimants ruled – the Hongguang Emperor, the Longwu Emperor, the Shaowu Emperor, and the Yongli Emperor being the most important – between 1644 and 1661.

Hongguang Emperor by unknown
                                  artist (Source: Wikimedia Commons,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%E5%BC%98%E5%85%89%E5%B8%9D.jpg)Longwu Emperor
                                  by unknown artist during Qing dynasty
                                  (Source: Wikimedia Commons,
Left: Hongguang Emperor by unknown artist (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Right: Longwu Emperor by unknown artist during Qing dynasty (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Zheng Sen’s loyalty and defense of the Longwu Emperor (Zhu Yujian) received special recognition. The emperor “adopted” Zheng Sen, treating him as if he were a son-in-law and bestowing upon him the imperial surname Guóxìngyé. He was also given the name Chenggong (success), as well as an imperial sword and seal on which were engraved the Chinese words for “Great Rebel Quelling General.”  Although he was now Zheng Chenggong, Zheng Sen preferred to be called as the emperor called him, Guóxìngyé, which Westerners anglicized as Koxinga (sometimes spelled Coxinga). He would become the Ming dynasty’s last defender.

The Manchu established their own dynasty, Qing, but their armies did not stop once they reached Beijing. Their soldiers continued south and took Anhai, the city where Koxinga’s mother now made her home.4 Accounts disagree on what transpired, but Tagawa Matsu died in 1646.5 Her daughter-in-law, Cuiying, must have been present or close by at the time of the attack, because she risked her life to save the ancestral tablet belonging to her mother-in-law while other Zheng family members fled.6 With his mother’s death, this tablet also served to venerate her and Cuiying’s act demonstrated to Koxinga that she was more loyal than those born with Zheng blood. Thereafter, she became his closest friend. He valued her counsel on many things, including affairs related to his military ventures and the Zheng family.

When his father decided it was better to join the winning side, rather than continue supporting a losing cause, he didn’t consult Koxinga, or anyone else in the family. Koxinga would write:
How is it that my father, who has always taught me the virtue of loyalty, can contemplate such as ignominious surrender? How can my father expect his son to be called a traitor? (Clements, 130)
Example of sampan (Source:
                                https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sampan-01.png)Feeling betrayed, Koxinga struck out on his own. “In the past I was guided by my relatives, but now I am alone.” (Clements, 133) He also believed that he was entitled to control the vast empire that his father had created, although many within the Zheng clan disagreed. As a result, Koxinga had only one sampan, silver equivalent to 1,000 taels, and several dozen followers.

Although he had studied Chinese military and naval history and practices, Koxinga lacked experience. But he was stubborn and believed in the rightness of what he did. He was also ruthless in managing his resources; instead of showing favoritism, he rewarded those who deserved advancement through their actions. Nor was he a commander who led from the rear. He placed himself in the front line, and even when wounded, he was a force to be reckoned with. He was also determined to defend the Ming cause with his life if necessary. He eventually increased his ranks to 300 and several commanders who had once followed his father joined Koxinga. Their initial battles against the Qing ended in defeats, but each loss taught him valuable lessons.

During this time, a revenue collector joined Koxinga’s ranks. Yang Ying kept a journal that somehow managed to survive Qing attempts to purge all evidence of the Zhengs’ existence. Entitled True Record of the Past King’s Expeditions, Yang Ying revealed much about Koxinga’s strategies. Locals taught him about their terrain, which enabled him to find the best places to ambush the enemy. He taught his men to pretend to be weak in order to draw out their opponents. Then his men attacked them from the sides, dividing the enemy into two smaller forces. His tactics proved so successful that after routing one village, two others quickly surrendered.

One early example of these successful strategies came in 1648 when he targeted the port of Tongan. The Manchu expected a sea assault and fortified the garrison and town. Several days before Koxinga’s ships appeared, four squads of his men, in the guise of wandering monks, infiltrated the city. They waited until Koxinga sent fire ships into the harbor, at which time they slew the sentries and threw open the gates. Zheng foot soldiers stormed inside. Not all the spies succeeded in carrying out their orders, but the majority did and Koxinga took the port while his men slaughtered any Manchu they encountered.

Territory controlled by Koxinga
Territory Koxinga came to control during his lifetime.
Red signifies areas he held. Pink signifies his sphere of influence.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Although he had forsaken the cap and robe of a scholar when he chose to fight, Koxinga still wrote poetry. One poem was written around this time, and was later recorded in the Historical Novel of Taiwan.
The year has brought great joy and profound sorrow
Yet if a man works hard for fortune or fame,
Death will not spare him.
As with idle sports, in the end all is vain
Though men’s hearts may be blind
The Way of Heaven rewards the true of heart
If my life must be a game of chess
I am not afraid of the final move
Let the people say what they will
It is not easy to be an honest man
In a distressed and wicked time. (Clements, 133)
Now that he had succeeded in furthering the Ming cause, Koxinga decided to reclaim his father’s empire. In slightly more than twenty-four hours in the fall of 1650, he captured Xiamen, China’s most important port and succeeded in gaining control of the Zheng organization. Under his leadership, their financial empire grew. Koxinga combined legitimate and illegitimate commercial ventures just as his father had. His ships attacked and plundered other vessels and towns. Additional funds came from ransoming captives. In 1657, Zheng pirates struck the prefect (district) of Xinghua. Villages were plundered, women were assaulted, children were kidnapped, and more than 1,000 lost their lives.

Koxinga also charged baoshui (water fee) on any vessel that wanted to sail in Fujian waters. It didn’t matter whether they were Chinese boats or foreign ships; each had to pay. Refusals resulted in piratical attacks. The Zheng clan’s control eventually extended to all the trade between Fujian and Guangdong, as well as most foreign commerce with Southeast Asia, the Dutch on Taiwan, and the Spanish in the Philippines. Between 1650 and 1662, the average annual income of Koxinga’s operations amounted to 4,000,000 taels of silver (150 tons). This was double the annual revenue of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC, or East India Company), and the Dutch were Koxinga’s greatest competitors. Koxinga utilized much of the garnered wealth to fight the Manchu.

The situation in China worsened. Wang Yingyuan, a government official touring the province of Fujian in 1652, reported:
In the eighth and ninth lunar months . . . the price of rice had risen to 150 taels per picul. The people had run out of grasses, roots, wood, and leaves, as well as mice, sparrows, water buffalos, and horses. In their desperate search for food, nothing was left but human flesh. Fathers and sons ate one another, and those who had not ended up in the stewpot died of diseases or hunger. [Others] drowned or hung themselves . . . . Everyday thousands died. The bodies piled up and the stink could be smelled for several li away. (Calanca, Elusive, 89-90)
The following year an epidemic swept over the land. An earthquake and a plague of locusts struck in 1654. The strife between Qing and Zheng forces also impacted trade. Confronted by all these difficulties, the Manchu decided to employ Zheng Zhilong to bring Koxinga to heel; otherwise, what use was this turncoat?

Koxinga and his father, Zheng
                                Zhilong (Source:
                                https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Koxinga_and_Zheng_Zhilong.jpg)His father wrote two letters to Koxinga, saying the Manchus wished to meet and discuss terms of peace. The second missive included this passage: “The Manchu court offers territory in exchange for peace. They wish to send two noblemen to present you with the title and deeds of the Dukedom of Haicheng, allowing your followers to abide in the region.” (Clements, 149)

Acceptance never crossed Koxinga’s mind.
For eight years now . . . my father has not regarded me as his son. I return the sentiment. Communications have ceased, and we have not exchanged a single word since. Since ancient times, sane and righteous men have understood that there is a greater duty than mere loyalty to one’s family. I have known this since I first learned to read it in the Spring and Autumn Annals. It was on my mind in [1646] when my father drove up to the capital. I made my decision then.

Now, all of a sudden, you seek to lecture me on loyalty. You, who are a mouthpiece for the Manchus, talk of promoting me above the former ranks of earl and marquess. But since the Manchus have lied to you, what makes you think they do not lie to me? (Clements, 150)
The Manchu refused to be put off by this response and tried again. Two emissaries arrived with this proposal:
Even with the pacification of coastal regions, We would still require the competent organisation of defences. Rather than search for another, would you not seem to be the ideal candidate? Your father remains confident in his family, and has recommended you highly . . . You may repel and destroy pirates at your discretion. You retain the responsibility for inspection and taxing of maritime cargo . . . You shall achieve the pacification of the seas. Such is Our inevitable command. (Clements, 151-2)
The governor of Fujian, who had also forsaken the Ming emperor, sent his own note in hopes of swaying Koxinga.
Your father has been promoted in status above the highest minister, but your grandmother is frail in years. [The Manchu hold the territory] where can be found your ancestors’ graves, though you of course do not require burial there yet. If your continued military actions were to cause harm to come to those tombs, it would cause unbearable stress to your honoured father. Even in his dreams, he would not get a moment’s peace, nor would your grandmother have a quiet moment to sleep or eat. (Clements, 152)
Koxinga’s reply was:
Who would have thought, so soon after the desecration of my ancestral tombs, that such grand embassies would arrive, heavy with silken, heartfelt sincerity? How could I refuse such offers? I’ll be waiting for you. Maybe with a little present. (Clements, 153)
Next came two of his younger brothers. They claimed their father would be killed if Koxinga didn’t parley with the Qing. He replied:
You youngsters don’t know the ways of the world . . . . Father is only safe as long as I am at large. If I shave my head and accept the Qing’s deal then father and you will be headed for ill fates. Stop speaking to me of these things! Do you think it easy to deny my humanity and abandon my father? Doing the right thing is not easy! It’s not easy! (Andrade, Lost, 79-80)
Zheng Zhilong wrote again in 1655, this time without permission from his keepers. The Manchu intercepted it and their reaction was swift. They sentenced him to death.

Koxinga decided to assail Nanjing in 1568. A vast fleet of vessels set sail for the Yangtze River. Not only did these vessels carry his sailors and soldiers, but also present were many members of his household, including at least one concubine (maybe even six) and two of his young sons. Vittorio Riccio, an Italian missionary, claimed “[i]t was the most powerful fleet that had ever been seen in the Chinese seas.” (Andrade, Lost, 86) Although estimates and accounts disagreed on numbers, Riccio described it as “a shocking and awesome sight . . . The fleet occupied the waters in such a way that the ocean looked like an immense forest of bare trees.” (Andrade, Lost, 86)

                                  of Yangtze River by Shannon1, 2022
Map of the Yangtze River by Shannon1. (Nanjing is about 1 inch inland from the mouth of the river)
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Koxinga never reached his target. A fearsome storm struck. Waves crashed over the decks. The rain was so heavy the helmsmen couldn’t steer and the navigator could not see hidden dangers. The winds drove ships into each other. Others crashed into reefs that ripped open their bottoms. Still more were smashed on the rocks. The number of ships lost was never revealed, but estimates of those who died reached 8,000. That number included 231 members of his household, some of whom were his immediate family. Numerous survivors saw the disaster as evidence that the sea goddess no longer favored the Zheng and deserted or joined the Manchu.

Another attempt was made in 1659. This force was even bigger, but it was destroyed by the Manchu, in part because Koxinga ignored advice from a local advisor familiar with the region and the enemy. Koxinga withdrew but refused to stop fighting the invaders.

More determined than ever, the Qing opted to use a multi-pronged approach to succeed in stopping Koxinga. To implement this plan, they selected Huang Wu to lead them. Once a Zheng officer, he knew their vulnerabilities. Support for Koxinga had to end. This meant attacking the family. First, Zheng Zhilong was executed. Next, Zheng family tombs were destroyed so that the spirits of their ancestors would no longer be able to help them. Smugglers who supplied the Zheng were quickly dispatched.

Then a policy of scorched-earth was enacted. A wide swath of land near the shore was evacuated and the people had to move thirty to fifty li (twelve to twenty miles) inland. Given only a few days to leave, this forced exodus was devastating. Many families had lived in these homes for generations and living farther from the coast meant they could no longer practice the only trade they knew. Anyone who defied this order and stayed was slaughtered. Once the region was abandoned, everything – houses, barns, shops, crops, and boats – were put to the torch. The fires created so much smoke that it blocked out the sun in Xiamen for three days. One survivor of this ruthless policy wrote this poem:
Cold day, at sunset: husband and wife hold each other as they walk.
Where will they find solace? Hiding their faces, they weep on the roadside.
Barbarian riders drive them away; the ultimatum is unyielding.
Determined they are, to reduce the coastal earth to bare grass.
The rich suddenly became poor – and the poor, who will help them?
No deep seas are left to fish, no broad fields left to farm.
The inland regions are full of distress folk; girls and women in the family quarrel without end.
The mob turns easily to violence, crowded as they are with the starving.
I hear that they are building a great trench and guarding it with soldiers and wardrums.
They guard the ocean like guarding a frontier; and the old and young toil and suffer.
This suffering overflows all feelings – who can stop this flood? (Ho, 205-206)
Hundreds of thousands were left homeless and hungry, and Koxinga was deprived of a safe base from which to operate. He and his people needed a new land to go to, and he chose the island of Taiwan as his new home. The only problem was that it was occupied by the Dutch. Koxinga determined that they would have to leave; he gathered 300 to 400 junks and 25,000 men and set sail for Fort Zeelandia.

Island of Formosa and Pecadores,
                                  circa 1640 (Source:
1640 map of Formosa (Taiwan) and the Pescadores.
The orientation has the west coast of the island facing the bottom of the picture.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Rumors of a possible invasion had first reached the Dutch in early 1660. Twelve VOC ships from Batavia arrived in July to defend the island, but when no enemy troops came, the majority of commanders left for home on two ships. In April 1661, the Dutch first spotted the sails of the approaching invaders’ force. At the time, a total of 1,733 lived within the confines of the fortress. This number included 218 women and children, as well as 547 slaves and their offspring. The men totaled 968, the majority of whom were soldiers and their officers. The fort was built to hold only about 575 people.

17th-century watercolor by Joan
                                  Blaeu of VOC's Fort Zeelandia
17th-century watercolor by Joan Blaeu of the VOC's Fort Zeelandia on Formosa (Taiwan).
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

One might think the VOC and the Dutch would have the edge, but Koxinga had the latest weaponry and a cadre of well-trained musketeers from Africa. He also possessed insider knowledge, provided by a defector named Pinqua. What ensued was a siege that lasted nine months. Both sides suffered because of internal “conflicts, hunger, poverty, and large numbers of deaths.” (Blussé, 230)

Siege of Fort Zeelandia, 1669 by
                                  Albrecht Herport (Source:
Die Festung Selandia auff Teowan (The Siege of Zeelandia on Taiwan) by Albrecht Herport, 1669
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

One of those disputes involved Koxinga and his uncle, Zheng Tai, who managed the Zheng overseas operations. Rather than stick around until the siege ended, Zheng Tai returned to China. The desertion enraged Koxinga so much that he forgot “his blood-tie and the many expressions of friendship and fatherly assistance which his uncle had given him” and literally demanded his uncle’s head. (Blussé, 230) Calmer heads prevailed and the order was not carried out; it was a sign that all was not copacetic. Such rants were not unknown to those who knew Koxinga. He needed and wanted to control all aspects of his domain, and when things did not go as planned or people failed to heed his orders, his temper flared in the extreme. When he conversed with others, his gaze flitted from one spot to another. Sure signs that he was angry came when he became sarcastic or threatened someone and then gave a false, but terrifying, laugh.

When the Dutch finally surrendered on 1 February 1662, only about 900 remained alive. Unsanitary conditions – rank smell, filth, illness, no water, hunger – had resulted in approximately 1,600 dead. The survivors were malnourished and permitted to take only themselves, the clothes on their backs, and their account ledgers with them when they left the island. All weapons, ammunition, money, and goods became the property of the Zheng clan. The Chinese who remained outside the fort didn’t fare much better than the Dutch. Food had become scarce – at one point, Koxinga ordered that each soldier could only have the equivalent of 1,750 calories a day, which he then had to share with his family and servants – and disease spread unhampered.

Treaty between Koxing &
                                  Dutch, 1692 (Source:
                                  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Koxinga_Dutch_Treaty.jpg)Portrait of Koxinga by unknown
                                  artist, mid-17th century (Source:
Right: Treaty between Koxinga and the Dutch following their surrender in 1662 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Left: Koxinga by unknown artist, mid-17th century (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Upon the Dutch departure, Koxinga hoisted the Zheng banner over the fort and seized control in the name of the Ming emperor. In reality, Koxinga ruled as if the island were his own kingdom. He initiated the Guoxin Pass for any sea trader wishing to do business on Taiwan. This was essentially a tax of 2,000 to 3,000 ling of silver on ship tonnage. Anyone who refused to pay found themselves the victims of piracy and their ships destroyed.

Although the Qing finally executed Zheng Zhilong in November 1661, the government did not make this fact widely known at the time. Instead, they waited and issued a proclamation detailing specifics of the execution the following February, hoping that the news would reach Koxinga. It did and it upset him greatly. He declared a period of public mourning.

News of another death soon reached Koxinga. The Longwu Emperor had been captured and killed in 1646. The last successor to the Southern Ming dynasty was Zhu Youlang, known as the Yongli Emperor; although initially successful against Qing forces, he and his family eventually fled to the area known today as Myanmar. With an invasion force massing on his doorstep, King Pye Min delivered the Yongli Emperor into the hands of his enemy, a former Ming general and now a Qing commander and prince, in 1660. The Yongli Emperor was strangled to death the following year. This news reached Taiwan on 12 July 1662. Overwhelmed with grief, Koxinga arrayed himself in ceremonial robes, proceeded to the family shrine, and died. Or perhaps he succumbed from a seizure following a dispute with his son. Or it may have been malaria that claimed him. Regardless of the cause, Koxinga was dead three days later.
An ancient prayer amid yellowing leaves
A palace open to cold autumn winds
Thicker and thicker grow the old oak trees
Heedless, the birds return.

Stone monuments lie forgotten in the earth
Shrine steps covered with moss
To this place, where few visitors come
The sorrows of the world return. (Clements, 166-67)
Unlike the monuments mentioned in this poem that Koxinga wrote, he was not forgotten. Although the Manchu initially set out to eradicate him and the Zheng clan from memory by destroying graves and all Zheng writings, the Kangxi Emperor ordered the restoration of the Zheng graves in 1700. The Qianlong Emperor honored Koxinga as a Paragon of Loyalty in 1787. Even in Japan, the land of his birth, he has been honored and remembered. The Battles of Coxinga (1715) became one of the most popular kabuki plays. The honorable samurai Coxinga defeats the Manchu and returns the Ming emperor to the throne.

Most of what we know of Koxinga comes from outside sources: Qing, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese. A few contemporary accounts remain, penned by those who either took part in Zheng activities or heard stories and interviewed those who knew him. Koxinga had both a private and a public persona, because he preferred to keep his thoughts and intentions to himself.

To the Dutch and the Manchu, he was a pirate. Englishmen and Spaniards considered him a king. The Chinese used both words. Koxinga would have said he was neither. He was a loyal Ming follower who just wanted to be a scholar.

1. The gong consisted of craftsmen and women who produced the products used in everyday life.

2. Stories about samurai show that this warrior would rather commit suicide than betray his leader or his honor.

3. The Spring and Autumn Period occurred between 770 and 430 BC during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty. It was a time of strife and change. It was also when the great philosophers (like Confucius, Laozi, and Sunzi) lived.

4. Zheng Zhilong’s request for Tagawa Matsu to emigrate from Japan was granted in 1646. Sometime after she established her home in Anhai, south of Quanzhou, that year was when the Manchu invaded Fujian province.

5. Some say the Manchu killed her; others recount that after they raped her, she committed suicide. Koxinga found her and cleansed away any trace of the villains, reinforcing his deep devotion to her. Her violation and death also explained his deep-seated hatred for the Manchu and the Qing dynasty.

6. Also known as a spirit tablet, the ancestral tablet was a way to honor one’s ancestors.

11:18: Fall of the Ming Dynasty” in Early World Civilizations. LibreTexts.

Andrade, Tonio. Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West. Princeton University, 2011.
Andrade, Tonio, and Hang Xing. “The East Asian Maritime Realm in Global History, 1500-1700,” Sea Rovers, Silver, and Samurai: Maritime East Asia in Global History, 1550-1700. University of Hawai’i, 2019, 1-27.
Antony, Robert J. “Introduction: The Shadowy World of the Greater China Seas” in Elusive Pirates, Pervasive Smugglers: Violence and Clandestine Trade in the Greater China Seas edited by Robert J. Antony. Hong Kong University, 2010, 1-14.
Antony, Robert J. Like Froth Floating on the Sea: The World of Pirates and Seafarers in Late Imperial South China. Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 2003.

Blussé, Leonard. “Shame and Scandal in the Family: Dutch Eavesdropping in the Zheng Lineage,” Sea Rovers, Silver, and Samurai: Maritime East Asia in Global History, 1550-1700. University of Hawai’i, 2019, 226-237.
Busquets, Anna. “Dreams in the Chinese Periphery: Victorio Riccio and Zheng Chenggong’s Regime,” Sea Rovers, Silver, and Samurai: Maritime East Asia in Global History, 1550-1700. University of Hawai’i, 2019, 202-225.

Calanca, Paola. “Piracy and Coastal Security in Southeastern China, 1600-1780” in Elusive Pirates, Pervasive Smugglers: Violence and Clandestine Trade in the Greater China Seas edited by Robert J. Antony. Hong Kong University, 2010, 85-98.
Calanca, Paola. “South Fujian the Disputed Coast, Power and the Counter-power,” Pirates, Ports, and Coasts in Asia: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives edited by John Kleinen and Manon Osseweijer. International Institute for Asian Studies and Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010, 76-98.
Carioti, Patrizia. “The Zheng Regime and the Tokugawa Bakufu: Asking for Japanese Interventions,” Sea Rovers, Silver, and Samurai: Maritime East Asia in Global History, 1550-1700. University of Hawai’i, 2019, 156-180.
Clements, Jonathan. Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty. Sutton, 2005.

Emmer, Pieter C., and Joseph J. L. Gommans. The Dutch Overseas Empire, 1600-1800 translated by Marilyn Hedges. Cambridge University, 2021.

Hang Xing. “Bridging the Bipolar: Zheng Jing’s Decade on Taiwan, 1663-1673,” Sea Rovers, Silver, and Samurai: Maritime East Asia in Global History, 1550-1700. University of Hawai’i, 2019, 238-259.
Hang Xing. Conflict and Commerce in Maritime East Asia: The Zheng Family and the Shaping of the Modern World, c. 1620-1720. Cambridge University, 2017.
Hang Xing. “The Contradictions of Legacy: Reimaging the Zheng Family in the People’s Republic of China,” Imperial China 34:2 (December 2013), 1-27.
Ho, Dahpon David. “Sealords Live in Vain: Fujian and the Making of a Maritime Frontier in Seventeenth-Century China.” PhD diss. University of California, San Diego, 2011.

Hoang Anh Tuan. “Tonkin Rear for China Front: The Dutch East India Company’s Ports in the 1660s,” Pirates, Ports, and Coasts in Asia: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives edited by John Kleinen and Manon Osseweijer. International Institute for Asian Studies and Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010, 51-75.

Imperial China” in China Then as a Key to China Now online exhibit. Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, 2014.

Konstam, Angus. Piracy: The Complete History. Osprey, 2008.

Shapinsky, Peter. D. “Envoys and Escorts: Representation and Performance among Koxinga’s Japanese Pirate Ancestors” in Sea Rovers, Silver, and Samurai: Maritime East Asia in Global History, 1550-1700 edited by Tonio Andrade and Hang Xing. University of Hawai’i, 2019, 38-64.
Shapinsky, Peter D. “From Sea Bandits to Sea Lords: Nonstate Violence and Pirate Identities in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Japan” in Elusive Pirates, Pervasive Smugglers: Violence and Clandestine Trade in the Greater China Seas edited by Robert J. Antony. Hong Kong University, 2010, 27-41.

Wills, Jr., John E. “Yiquan’s Origins: Clues from Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin Sources,” Sea Rovers, Silver, and Samurai: Maritime East Asia in Global History, 1550-1700. University of Hawai’i, 2019, 114-131.

Xu Ke. “Piracy, Seaborne Trade and the Rivalries of Foreign Sea Powers in East and Southeast Asia, 1511 to 1839: A Chinese Perspective” in Piracy, Maritime Terrorism and Securing the Malacca Straits edited by Graham Gerard Ong-Webb. International Institute for Asian Studies and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2006.

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